Bridport Town Council has published three options for the future governance of the town, including a preferred proposal for a merger of four parishes into a single council for the built area of the town, with the aim of improving local democracy and local services.
A review of parish boundaries announced by Dorset Council in August invites town and parish councils to submit proposals for changes to electoral boundaries, numbers of councillors, and other aspects of local governance. Bridport Town Council’s submission will be considered at its Full Council meeting on 21 September and if approved will make the case for bringing together the existing parishes of Allington, Bothenhampton & Walditch, Bradpole, the new Foundry Lea (Vearse Farm) development and Bridport into a single council area.
Leader of Bridport Town Council, Cllr Dave Rickard said “Since the existing town and parish councils were created in 1974, Bridport and three surrounding parishes have gradually coalesced into a single urban area, and now is the right time to consider whether it is right for them all to remain separately governed. Many of the services enjoyed by residents across the area are already provided by Bridport Town Council, but people living in some parts of the town such as Allington, Bothenhampton, and Bradpole, have no say in what is provided and are not asked to contribute to the cost of those services. Added to that, the creation of a new unitary Dorset Council and the difficulties that the parish councils face in attracting councillors to stand for election, make local government feel very distant from many residents. Our proposals will offer greater democracy and accountability, better public services, fairer funding, and a stronger voice for Bridport, without affecting people’s local identity.”
Key elements of the proposal include:
- A single town council area incorporating most of the existing parishes of Allington, Bothenhampton & Walditch, Bradpole and Bridport;
- A total of 20 councillors, compared with 44 at present across the four parishes;
- Wards within the new council area based on local identity, with five wards representing Bradpole, Bothenhampton & Walditch, Bridport Central, Bridport West & Allington, and West Bay;
- Inclusion of the Foundry Lea (Vearse Farm) development into the single council area; and
- Pymore village becoming part of Symondsbury parish, reflecting its rural setting separate from the urban area.
Cllr Rickard said “The changes will build on the success of the Town Council as one of the larger councils in Dorset, resulting in locals being elected as ward members to represent their areas but with vastly improved in-house organisation and expertise, officers and staff to support problem-solving and projects. Ward committees will more effectively be able to solve problems which, hitherto, had to be passed to another authority to rectify. We will also look at ways of protecting very local influence and traditional identity, perhaps through village-based community groups with a specific function of ensuring that the needs of the traditional villages are not subsumed but enhanced by the realignment. Other advantages could be that local halls and other community assets currently owned by the parish councils come under the Town Council’s established maintenance regime and could benefit from our recent creation of the Bridport Communities Trust, to secure their preservation and maintenance for community benefit.”
Town Mayor Cllr Ian Bark said “During my term as Mayor – strictly speaking for Bridport parish only – I have been asked to get involved in events and issues that affect all of the surrounding parishes and I get a strong sense of a wider ‘Bridport’ community, even in areas with their own local identity. I think we can be stronger together and hope that people will support the proposals.”
Town Clerk Will Austin said “It’s not my place to be saying what should and shouldn’t happen as a result of the review but I do have a role in promoting the democratic process. At the last election in 2019 there were 44 seats up for election across the four parishes, but the current arrangements meant that only 34 seats were filled. That does suggest there is room for improvement. I would strongly encourage residents to come to our meeting on 21 September and give their views and ideas to help address this.”
Bridport councillors will decide their preferred options, but Dorset Council will determine whether proposed changes meet national guidance and deliver a legal model for governance. Dorset Council’s recommendations are expected in December, and final outcomes would take effect from the elections in May 2024.
The Town Council will meet virtually at 7pm on Tuesday 21 June, and joining details can be found at https://www.bridport-tc.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/A-21-09-21.pdf. For those without internet access, a limited number of people will be able to join the Town Clerk to participate, by prior arrangement only. Please call 01308 456722 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange.
Dorset Council’s review of community governance launched on 5 August and is open for public comment until 28 October, with decisions expected by May 2022. For more information and to submit comments, visit https://www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/w/community-governance-review. The Town Council’s draft submission to the review is available at https://www.bridport-tc.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/21-09-21-Draft-CGR-Submission-ENCL-3658.pdf.